It’s not just our innate nerdiness, apparently. Or the fact that some of their parents were themselves very efficient rote learners. “Mugging” or cramming for exams was something I never got the hang of, but we all know someone who crammed their way to academic brilliance (at least in school). Perhaps they passed on their tips to their kids?
Apparently, the bigger secret is that desi kids have their own national-level Spelling Bee preparatory network. Slate has an interesting article on the North South Foundation, a nonprofit byRatnam Chitturi which runs (among other things) a Spelling Bee league. This is what Slate says about NSF:
The NSF circuit consists of 75 chapters run by close to 1,000 volunteers. The competitions, which began in 1993, function as a nerd Olympiad for Indian-Americans—there are separate divisions for math, science, vocab, geography, essay writing, and even public speaking—and a way to raise money for college scholarships for underprivileged students in India.
The NSF Spelling Bee competitions (Slate describes one in Kansas held at the local temple) are also at a national level and have some prize money, though nothing on the scale of Scripps. Slate estimates that about 30 desi kids from the NSF ranks will be among the 273 kids who participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee which starts tomorrow. The finals air on ABC on Friday, June 4th. Hopefully, at least a few of those 30 kids will make it all the way to the finals and perhaps even win.
Of course I will be watching – longtime readers know how much of a Spelling Bee fan – in 2007, I wondered about all the desi kids on the Bee and what their parents must be telling each other , in 2008, I hypothesised about why Indians do so well in the Bee (CBSE system? ancient gurukul tradition?) and about Sameer Mishra’s “numb nuts”. It’s a fascinating phenomenon, this abundance of desi participation, and I have never figured out why this is so.
But I will be puzzling over it some more over the next few days as I watch gawky kids in braces and pigtails mouth words I’ve never heard before.
I’m not sure why I watch. I really don’t know why I find this such a fascinating competition. Perhaps when I understand that, I will also understand what drives so many Indian-American parents to spend so many years teaching their kids, or so many kids to spend years learning words they’ll probably never use again. The prize money is good – the winner got $40,000 last year, but desis have been competing in the Bee long before the prize money was anything great.
So why do you think desis like the Spelling Bee so much? What could explain this phenomenon?